POSTED BY KAREN BYROM
The Quieter Dieter is an original story by E.M. Holland which first appeared in My Weekly in March 25, 1961 – just a few short weeks after Mike and Polly Wadham’s weekly adventures began in what was to become our well-loved series Life and The Wadhams. You can now buy a collection of some of the original stories from the 60s. Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy this one.
THE QUIETER DIETER BY E M HOLLAND
“It had to be washed, it was grubby,” Polly Wadham said defensively.
Mike stared gloomily at the tie he was holding.
“It was my favourite!” he announced.
A little red in the face, her eyes trying to convince him, she spoke breathlessly.
“But it’s still all right, really it is, Mike! I know the colour has run, but at least it did run evenly, not a blotch to be seen anywhere! I’m sure no one would guess.”
“Catch me wearing a red tie with pink stripes!” he protested heatedly. “You have a passion for plunging things in water, Polly! The bedroom curtains weren’t dirty, but you’ve washed the glaze right out of them. The bed spread has shrunk to half its size, and so has your dress! And now this tie, I -”
Polly Wadham didn’t know the look of pure horror in her eyes moved him, first to mild surprise, then to quick remorse.
She only knew that suddenly there he was, assuring her his tie was worn out anyway, he was sick of it, and it didn’t really matter at all, there was no need for her to be so upset about it.
Surely a woman can’t put on eight pounds without knowing it?
Polly hardly listened, but she was at the chemist’s five minutes before the shop opened.
“Are you sure this machine is right ?” she demanded.
“Nine stone one, that’s what it says !” Mr Gibbs assured her cheerfully.
“But it can’t be,” Polly said. “I’ve always been eight seven.”
What’ s eight pounds more or less, Mrs Wadham? You’re not overweight!”
“I’m twenty-two, five foot four, and small boned, eight stone seven is the weight I should be. Surely a woman can’t put on eight pounds in less than a year without knowing it!”
Mr Gibbs, who weighed a contented fourteen stone, couldn’t quite see why his lady customers invariably wanted to pick an argument with his weighing machine.
Even the most gentle, sensible and mild-mannered ones regarded it with the deepest distrust.
“I had it checked only the day before yesterday,” Mr Gibbs said firmly. “And it’s absolutely right.”
“It can’t be!”
Mr Gibbs was a patient man, but the little scene repeated over and over again day after day was slowly but surely getting on his nerves.
“You must have realised you were putting on a few pounds or you wouldn’t have come in here to weigh yourself!”
“I didn’t,” Polly sighed gloomily. “Though I did find my things getting a bit tight. But this morning my husband said my dress had shrunk in the wash.”
His look of blank bewilderment made Polly sigh with exasperation.
“It hasn’t been washed,” she informed him in tones of doom.
Startled out of her dreams of lemon meringue pie …
That morning at ten o’clock, a stunned but delighted bread delivery boy found himself presented with eight fruit cream chocolates.
At eleven o’clock the milkman was told to cancel the Sunday quarter pint of cream. And at midday a startled postman bringing nothing more exciting than a bill was offered a huge chunk of rich fruit cake.
Every day round about six Polly started watching the clock and waiting for Mike. On this particular day she started clock watching at four. Not with her thoughts on Mike but with her mind set on food, and Mike was late.
“Sorry, dear,” he answered her rather acid inquiry as to the reason. “Miss Harrison started talking to me just as we were leaving the office and I couldn’t cut her short. All I did was remark on her apparent passion for oranges, and I got the lot. What I want to know is, why can’t a dieter be quieter?”
Startled out of her dreams of lemon meringue pie, Polly looked guiltily up at him.
“What do you mean?”
Mike Wadham kicked off his shoes, wiggled his toes blissfully, pulled his socks straight, then pushed his feet back in his shoes. This daily ritual always amused Polly. But now Polly was hungry and in no mood to be amused.
“I do wish you wouldn’t start telling me something and then leave off right in the middle of it.”
“Well, she’s on a diet. Miss Harrison, I mean! Come to think of it, any number of women are. In a way I can understand a girl wanting to keep her figure, what I can’t understand is their wanting to talk so much about it. You’d think Miss Harrison would realise I’m not interested in diets, but as soon as I asked her about the oranges I got the lot.
“What she eats and what she doesn’t. Diet sheets, weight charts, the amount she has lost, the weight she still wants to lose, the whole shooting match.
“I knew I’d miss my bus, but there was no getting away from her. She used to be quite a pleasant girl, too, but nowadays she snaps and snarls and sulks. I liked her better fat. Tea ready, Polly?”
“Has been for nearly an hour,” Polly said in a small voice.
A hungry Mike Wadham was halfway through his meal before he noticed that Polly was only eating an apple and a piece of cheese.
“I suppose greedy Gussy couldn’t wait till I got home and had hers!” he grinned.
Polly gulped, gave a sickly smile, and nodded.
Do you know why I fell in love with you?
The next morning at breakfast as Mike, in the usual hurry, gulped down his food, Polly, who loved her husband dearly, studied him with faint dislike and announced, “The way you eat you ought to be as fat as a pig !”
“Well, I’m not. I’m lean.”
Lean is what she always called him, her eyes admiring, pride in her smile.
“Not lean, thin as a rake!”
Aware at last of the aggressive undertone in her words he frowned.
“Never knew you to be so childishly touchy! You were sulking yesterday and you still are, simply because I grumbled a bit about that tie you ruined. Do grow up, Polly!”
“Tie?” She made an effort to remember, then blushed when she noticed Mike studying her thoughtfully.
A week later Mike Wadham gently took away the sock she was darning and looked at her with troubled eyes.
“Polly, listen to me! I want you to go and see the doctor tomorrow!”
“Doctor?” she breathed in tones of amazement.
“Yes, doctor,” he burst out. “You keep on telling me there’s nothing wrong with you, nothing worrying or upsetting you, but I’ve been watching you and I know better.
“You don’t eat for one thing. You take a bit of stuff on your plate, push it around a little, play with it a little and leave most of it. Not only that, you don’t sleep well at night. You toss and turn and fidget.”
“I’m all right,” she contradicted flatly. “If I were ill I’d know it, wouldn’t I?”
“Apparently not. Listen, Polly, do be sensible. You must know you’re not yourself ! You know, when first we met, I thought what a pretty girl you were, but there are lots of pretty girls. Do you know why I fell in love with you?”
“I’ve asked you more than once and you always said you didn’t know yourself!”
“I know now,” Mike said gently. “I fell in love with you because you bubbled with laughter.
I’ve missed the real Polly
“Remember the day you tumbled down that flight of stairs ! You’d hurt your knee pretty badly and you had tears in your eyes, but you chuckled for all that. And when you said that you were lucky because you could have broken your neck but you only had a cut knee, I –”
“You what?” she asked quietly.
“I saw you really meant it. You didn’t think you were unlucky to have fallen, not you, all you could think was you were lucky you hadn’t broken any bones. And I found myself thinking a chap who married a girl like you would know what real luck meant.
“You’re Polly sunny side up, the born optimist. You don’t only count your blessings, you keep looking at them and each time you do they grow in size.
“That’s why I know you’re not yourself now and that’s what made me realise just what it was I loved so much in you. I’ve missed the real Polly. You’re irritable because you’re not well, dear.”
I’m irritable because I’m hungry!” Polly gulped, and his wide-eyed stare of stunned amazement made the irritation boil over. “I’ve been dieting! And let me tell you something, it isn’t easy when I have to sit and watch you tuck in for all you’re worth.
“You kept on pressing me, too, to have all the things I’m not supposed to have. Bringing me home chocolates. And nosing around in the cake tin after you’ve had a huge meal! Talking about food, nibbling a biscuit at bedtime, singing, ‘sugar in the morning’ when you’re dressing, and ‘lollipop, lollipop’ in your bath. It just isn’t fair!”
“Dieting!” Mike gasped. “But whatever for? You look all right to me!”
“Well, I’m not. I’ve put on eight pounds since we’ve been married. I worked it out, and if I go on putting on eight pounds every year I’ll be eighty pounds heavier by the time I’m thirty-two and do you know what that’ll make me?”
“You look just the same to me…”
Mike Wadham stared at his indignant wife in speechless surprise, then he suddenly threw back his head and roared with laughter.
“Very funny!” Polly agreed bitterly.
“It is,” Mike choked.” If you reason like a dope you can’t blame me for doing it, too, and I’m just picturing what you’ll look like say by the time you’re fifty or sixty! I could give up work and take you to the fair, charge a bob for people to come and gape at the fattest woman in the world!”
“I know perfectly well I won’t necessarily put on eight pounds a year,” Polly said with offended dignity. “But it is just possible, isn’t it?”
No, it isn’t,” Mike protested laughingly, and then, because she looked so forlorn, he relented.
“If you so desperately want to lose a couple of pounds, why don’t you go about it sensibly instead of starving yourself to death? And why on earth didn’t you tell me? Do you realise I’ve been worrying myself sick over you?”
“I didn’t tell you because you said you wished a dieter could be quieter! You said women on diets were bores, forever wanting to talk about what they ate and didn’t, what they had lost and what they wanted to lose.”
“This is different, this is you!”
“Oh, Mike, I’ve been so hungry!” Polly wailed with sudden self-pity.
“You’ve no business to be. For breakfast you’ll have an orange, tea with milk but no sugar, and two boiled eggs. For elevenses, tea and one biscuit, at midday a green salad, lean meat and fruit, in the evening you’ll eat everything, but you’ll cut out starch and sugar. I’m an authority on diets. Miss Harrison has made sure of that! But I can’t see that you’ve put on weight, you look just the same to me.”
“Do I, Mike? Do I really?”
Polly Wadham didn’t know how much her husband had missed her delighted smile and bubbling laughter. But as she smiled at him now she noticed the relief in his eyes and saw him struggling to produce a compliment good enough to convince her.
Laughter bubbled in her throat
“You know, Polly,” he said, “to me you look as lovely as you did on the day we were married. I’ll always remember it! When you walked up the aisle you looked so beautiful I couldn’t believe it was you!”
Polly gaped at him, and then it happened.
Laughter bubbled in her throat and sparkled in her eyes.
The horrified realisation of what he’d said was written all over his face. “Oh, heavens, I didn’t mean–”
Polly Wadham hooted inelegantly, but the sound she made twitched his lips into an answering grin.
Ten minutes later, Polly meekly agreed that eating a meal was preferable to being hit over the head by an infuriated husband, and tucked in while he stood threateningly watching her.
No longer hungry but at peace with the world, she pushed back her empty plate and looked lovingly up at him.
“I’ve already lost two pounds, Mike, but I do want to lose the other six. You will help me, won’t you? I promise I won’t bore you with a lot of dieting talk. I really promise I’ll be on a quiet diet, you’ll see! In fact, I won’t mention it unless you do.”
Mike sighed softly and pretended to listen
That night, Polly dived under the bedclothes as usual, but she surfaced again with three minutes, having remembered she still had to tell Mike something quite essential about dieting. Seventeen minutes later she was still at it.
“Bananas are supposed to be fattening,” she babbled, “though I can’t see why, as some people recommend them for dieting. Nuts and dates and figs are out, too, not that they matter, I hardly ever have any anyway except at Christmas.
“But they say those big green peas are fattening, too. I wonder whether that’s true. It’s so difficult to know with so many people contradicting one another. Salt is bad as well if you want to slim, and as for rice! Do you know that -?”
Mike Wadham didn’t, but felt sure he’d learn during the weeks to come. He sighed softly and wished she’d shut up and let him go to sleep.
But he loved her, so he lay motionless and pretended to listen…